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The Education Forum

British Raj: Change and Continuity

Sumir Sharma

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A Background

It is here as a response to Shanet Clark view on a brief survey on Indian economy in State of India - Affaires Brief in Economic Resources section and his response to a comment on one of the content of his survey by me. I had not given the full view because of number of reasons. (One of the major reason is electricity break down in Punjab due to problems which a Third World country is still facing in spite of becoming a big player in BOP and distruption in compiling and editing along with doing ones own regular job.)

I must acknowledge here that the essay of Shanet Clark on East India Company rulers is superb and worthy of keeping. I have made a copy of it for my personal use.

The following write – up is an attempt to continue that dialogue without criticizing each other but bringing out the contradiction in perception development about a given historic fact, further research, presentation of historic fact as it is being done in Present and mutual benefit (May be more to me).

The content matter of my write-up is based on Modern India 1885-1947 by Sumit Sarkar, Freedom Struggle of India by Bipin Chandra, Freedom Struggle of India by S. S. Sen, India’s Struggle For Freedom by Bipin Chandra and five authors, Freedom Struggle by Tara Chand and Struggle for Freeom Ed by R. C. Majumdar (I am still continuing my reading of this series).

It is required to specifically mention here that Sumit Sakar work is based more on primary sources of National Archives of India and the book mentioned has numerous references from the Archives files. The work of Tara Chand was undertaken under the Congress rule before 1977. The work of R. C. Majumdar is work of nationalist historians and a type of reaction against the work of Tara Chand. But both the works had their own value.

I am giving here the response in a manner in which I treat my paper writing which is mainly done with the purpose of preparing lectures for my class, reading a book and for my understanding of the subject. It is as follows.


Question. What was the view of Britishers about the nature of Indian society and politics?

Answer. The Britishers were of the view that the Indian society was rigid and continue to be same for long time.

Question. What was the nature of the British rule in India?

Answer. The British rule was racial and despotic in nature in India.

Question. What was the claim of the British rule about the nature of their own rule in India?

Answer. The Britishers claimed that their rule was guided by the paternalistic benevolence, trustee of the welfare of India, and provided the training to the Indians towards the self-government.

Question. How many civil services posts were there in India under the British rule during the early eighties of the nineteenth century?

Answer. There were approximately 900 posts in civil service under the British rule in India during the early eighties of the nineteenth century.

Question. What was the main feature of the 1861 Indian Council Act from Indian point of view?

Answer. The Indians were given representation in the Provincial and Supreme Councils as nominees. The powers of such bodies were reduced. For the Indians it was the mockery of the claims of being highly judicious and impartial attitude of the Britishers.

Question. What was the main constrain on the functioning of the British Indian Government from the British point of view?

Answer. The British were constrained to involve the Indians in the regular working of the Indian administration.

Question. What was the relieving feature for the Britishers on the question of seeking the collaboration of the Indians in their Indian administration?

Answer. The Britishers were relieved to learn that they were able to obtain the collaboration of the Indian administration very easily.

Question. What change had taken place in the Indian attitude vis-à-vis the British administration?

Answer. The Indian middle class had become politically motivated by the middle of 1880s.

Question. When did the Indian become assertive in their stand vis-à-vis the British administration?

Answer. The Indians became assertive by the 1880s. It was the mainly a new class of Indians, which is referred to as middle class, that became politically motivated. It was the role, which it had acquired when it was not even imagined by the Britishers that the common Indian could organize themselves as politically aware associations of citizens.

Question. What were the views of the British official on the question of the existence of India as a nation?

Answer. The British officers were very vociferous in claiming that there was no nation by the name of India and it had never existed. Sir John Strachey had said before the graduates of Cambridge, “ there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India … no Indian nation, no people of India, of which we hear so much … that men of Punjab, Bengal, the North-West Provinces and Madras, should ever feel that they belong to one great Indian nation, is impossible.”

Question. What was the ideological contribution of the moderates of Congress to India as per Sumit Sarkar?

Answer. The author feels that a perspective of independent capitalist development for India was the contribution of the Moderates of the congress part.

Question. What was the importance of Congress for the country in 1936? Give an appropriate statement of a person which fully delineates the ground position of Congress?

Answer. It was Subhash Chander Bose as the President of Congress in 1936 who spoke the following words to suggest the actual importance of Congress for the country. He said, “ Congress had now become the largest organization of the common people drawn very largely from the village population and counting amongst its members lakhs of peasants and cultivators and a sprinkling of industrial and field worker’.

Q. Which are the major contours of the National Movement during twentieth century and its basic nature in practice?

Ans. During the twentieth century the national movement of India spread to a wider geographical area and penetrate different social classes. The Marxian school of Indian history under the research scholars of Subaltran studies especially Sumit Sarkar and vacillating historians like Bipin Chandra, the high marks in the National Movement had identified following milestones. The year 1905 to 1908, a period of Swadeshi Movement covering social, educational and industrial fields of India and increasing mass participation. It was the background on which Gandhi later built his theories. The year 1919-1922 saw the coming of Gandhi politics and solidarity among the masses of Indian nation contradicting the perception of the British Raj. Years 1922-1928 saw on one hand, the resurgence of revolutionary movement (in present days it would have been called terrorist movement), rise of the negotiation power of the mill workers or the Proletariats, and realization of the British Raj that they were now facing a rising class of Indian industrialist who could not be wished away and they had to form some policies towards them and they started picking groups among the Indian capitalists. The years 1928 –1934 was a decisive period for the world as well of India. The response of India was totally Indian in nature, marked by the working of the Gandhi politics. Year 1942 had single importance as the year of Indian Nation Maturity which was not liked by the leaders of British government. The year 1945-1946 was the period of final strength but failure in bringing unity among the communities which identified themselves on basis of religion. The Indian nationalists charged British rulers for this failure but the British rulers attributed it to history of India (In New Cambridge History series, this paradigm is still reigning supreme). Bipin Chandra had called this waves of Indian Nationalism and Indian National Movement as STS – Struggle Truce Struggle – pattern of Indian nation (Identified with Gandhi manner of achieving political goals as per his ideology of Non-Violence). Whole of this period brought in existence an undeniable and irreversible historic fact that Indian masses had learned to live an active political life. It was a fact which British Prime Minister Churchill was not able to accept in 1942.

Q. What were the achievements of Independence (Freedom and Liberty) for India?

Ans. The princely states were abolished (Junagarh and Hyderabad were part of that movement and not an example of Indian Imperialism as some scholars are still trying to declare. Same is the case with Goa and Sikkim – The criticism of this view is invited with open mind.). Zamindari ( a structure forged on Indian land relations by Cornwallis and John Smith) was abolished. Parliamentary Democracy with universal Franchise to men and women was adopted ( not knowing the criminalization of Politics by regional parties like AIADMK, RJD, INLD, SP and Akali form of activity of 80s in next 57 years.) Adoption of Mixed Economy – an Indian answer to the conflict of socialism and capitalist based economy.

However, a continuity case is that India continued with bureaucratic and army structure of British Raj wherein white Maibaps were replaced with Brown sahibs. Pakistan in truncated form was created.

Question. What was the actual nature of the British administration till its end?

Answer. British Government in India was basically an autocracy of hierarchically organized officials headed by the Viceroy and the Secretary of State, while the ultimate Parliamentary control was spasmodic and largely theoretical.

Question. What were the main features of Imperial structure and policies? What were the effects?

Answer. Viceroy and the Secretary of State were the main policies of the Imperial period after 1857. The British Parliament was made more powerful but it never exercised any of its power and left the Viceroy and the Secretary of State to manage the affairs of the Indian colony.

Viceregal Attitudes

The attitudes of the individual viceroys had also played a great role in defining the contours of the Indian history during its struggle for freedom. The dominating feature of such a evaluation is that the viceroys can be divided into two groups viz. a set that belong to the Tory group and the set that belonged to Liberal group. The Whigs, Radicals, Liberal imperialists, and Little-Englanders are included in the Liberal group of the British political environment.

Foreign Policy:

The British Viceroys extended the Indian territories in Afghanistan due to the fear of Russia and in Burma due to the fear of France. These expansionistic policies were undertaken during the period of Lytton and Dufferin. The reigning ministries were that of Salisbury and Gladstone. The next important expansion was undertaken during the period of Curzon.

The army:

The foreign policy adopted by the expansionistic viceroys in the second half of the nineteenth century raised the need to expand the number of the army men. The Indian army was directed according to the army commission of 1859 and 1879.

The main policies adopted during this period were the theory of the martial racial. The second theory was policy of watertight compartment.

Some of the major quotations of the person who mattered would make the actual nature of the army policy of the Britain clear. Wood in 1862: I wish to have a different rival spirit in different regiments, so that Sikh might fire into Hindoo (Gentoo), Goorkha into either, without any scruple in case of need.

Further, the budgetary allocation on the army increased from year to year. Under Curzon, it was 51.9%.

Financial and Administrative Pressure:

The main cause of the financial strain was the foreign policy and army expansion.

The second major cause of the financial burden on the Indian exchequer was the depreciation of the Indian rupee vis-à-vis sterling pound.

The famine, which devastated India in 1890s, was another cause of financial burden.

The financial burden was arranged for by increasing the excise duties, imposing income tax, sales tax, and forest laws. This had increased the burden on the common man and as a result became the cause of providing the support to the Congress which had emerged in 1885.

Local self-government and Council Reforms.

The liberal local self-government was provided because the British Bureaucracy wanted Indian to collaborate in their efforts of financial tightening.

Divide and Rule:

The divide between the elite groups was exploited by the British administration. They exploited the divide on the lines of religion, caste and the region. They British administration did not planned it before hand. It was definitely not a deliberate act on the part of British bureaucracy. The social, economic and political situation, which was mainly the result of British policy, provided them the situation, where the Britishers could exploit it on the principle of Divide and Rule. It was not a deliberate act of the Britishers. It was mainly the product of the colonial underdevelopment, which the British bureaucrats were able to exploit for the benefit of the British crown.

White Racism:

Racial discrimination and brutality were major cause in uniting the highest of the natives with their lesser brethren.

The racial discrimination was quite evident in the business field also. The white British business was well placed vis-à-vis Indian businessman. The English administrative machinery was sympathetically inclined towards the British businessman in face of competition with Indian businessman.

The Colonial Economy

The mercantilist phase of the British exploitation of India was from 1757 to 1813. It is the comment of Marx and considered to be the first phase of their activity.

The second phase was from 1813 to 1858. It is called the Classic age of trade.

The third phase extended from 1858 onwards which the period of finance imperialism.

The mercantilist phase of the British exploitation of India was from 1757 to 1813. It is the comment Marx and considered to be the first phase of their activity. The main feature of this phase was the phase of monopoly trade of East India Company. During this phase, the British company invested its surplus money in buying the Indian the finished goods from Bengal for selling it in the European market.

The second phase was from 1813 to 1858. It is called the Classic age of trade. The Classic age is marked by the exploitation by the free-traders industrial capitalists. It had started after the emergence of the industrial revolution in England. It surfeited the Indian market with the textile product of the Manchester. They bought the raw material from India. Their activity had ruined the traditional handicraft of India. It is remarked that 'the home-land of cotton was inundated with cotton.'

The third phase extended from 1858 onwards which the period of finance imperialism. This phase in market by the export of capital and establishment of the chain of the British controlled banks, export-import firms, and managing agency houses.

The Indian interpretation of the economic exploitation is the theory of Drain of Wealth, which was given by Dada Bhai Naoroji.

The evolution of Marx was based on the arbitrary division of the Indian period.

Question. What is the concept of the collective monopoly of European businessmen as given by Amiya Bagchi?

Ans. The white racism or the colour of the skin and not the economic and business demands dominated the motives of British Raj while dealing with white business men in India against their Indian competitors. In the field of Jute, Mining, tea, insurance, shipping and banking, “European compromise and mutual accommodation among themselves, however much they believe in the virtues of competition for others. (Bagchi, Private Investment in India pp. 170 as quoted in Modern India by Sumit Sarkar pp. 23)

In the end, I am wondering, if all was being settled in Britain, was all such activities which created Republic of India in 1947 not known to them. Is this a success of forces which works from below? Or is it, that being a student of history, it is easy to talk about the people from above and it is difficult to collect data from below and then to analyze it because it was being done earlier. Why Britain had lost America? Or it is that Richard Hakluyt failed in case of America but Thomes Roe succeeded in case of Mughal Empire.

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